One of the most enjoyable aspects of the recent election is watching the myth of Karl Rove -- "the architect" -- explode. Rove has shown himself to be a fairly poor political messenger, even with virtually unlimited funds, while also veering badly into believe your own bullshit territory. But to some degree, Rove has always been a bullshitter, one vastly enabled by a Washington media that finds genius on the right easy to come by.
If you look at Rove's historical track record, it was largely built in conjunction with the inevitable movement of Texas politics from old school southern Democratic to overwhelmingly Republican -- a movement replicated in states all over the old confederacy. Rove rode that wave, but surely did not create it.
On the national scene, Rove's claim to fame is largely the three elections in 2000, 2002, and 2004. In 2000 and 2004 he helped steer George W. Bush to the presidency twice and in 2002 helped the Republicans regain a narrow majority in the Senate. A look at all of these elections though suggests that there is less than meets the eye. In 2000, Bush lost the popular vote and was handed a dubious win in Florida by the intervention of the Supreme Court. Bush's 47.9% of the popular vote was about where Mitt Romney is about now in the voting count. His 271 electoral votes were one over the minimum necessary to obtain the presidency, the smallest margin of victory since Rutherford B. Hayes prevailed in the disputed election of 1876. In 2004, seeking reelection as a war time President, Bush did obtain 50.7% of the popular vote. However, his electoral vote total only climbed to 286 and he was within one state of losing to John Kerry. His two term total of 557 electoral votes is the lowest of any two term president and represents only 17 electoral votes above the minimum, while he obtained 2.5 million more popular votes than his two opponents out of roughly 222 million.
Now a win is a win, but I don't think either of these elections was indicative of campaign genius on Rove's part. What he did excel at though, was hyping his accomplishments, somehow selling the Washington punditocracy on the notion that the Republicans had somehow obtained an electoral college lock on the strength of two of the narrowest victories in over a century. Rove also managed to get credit in 2002 when the Republicans gained two Senate seats to obtain a 51-49 majority, a victory attained in large part through the untimely demise of Paul Wellstone and the jingoistic atmosphere rife in the post 9-11 environment. In short, Rove's three "triumphal" electoral victories were all basically split decisions characterized by the narrowest of victories.
Something else is worth noting about Rove's national victories -- he may have been Bush's brain, but Bush was Rove's heart. With Bush at the top of the ticket, the two of them were able to stake out a more moderate kind of conservatism aimed at expanding the base just enough to prevail. Thus, Bush pushed his "compassionate conservative" program that included Medicare Part D, an unfunded expansion of entitlements of a very significant kind, No Child Left Behind, a huge federal educational inititiatve that ran directly contrary to right wing notions of local control of schools, and support for immigration reform.
Rove and Bush showed an ideological flexibility in these matters that acknowledged the reality that the hard core conservative base was not large enough to win national elections, lessons that Rove, operating independently of Bush, seems to have been unable to bring to his 2008 and 2012 efforts. As a result, his super PAC efforts achieved a remarkable level of futility, wasting vast sums in a crude, bludgeoning, remarkably dishonest set of efforts.
I suspect that Rove will remain in the thick of things for the right, but that his claims to genius will continue to fade as white electoral dominance does as well.
Time for a quick cardiac catheterization. See you when I get out.
I'm out and the news was good. I had suffered from chest pains and shortness of breath on Saturday night, so on the way to the movies my wife suggested that perhaps a quick trip to the ER might be warranted. And I've been in te hospital since. (Long weekends really are not the time to be looking for quick answers.) Turned out to be a strange thing that was causing spasms in my coronary arteries, mimicking (on a pretty convincing level) the symptoms of a heart attack. I just need to take some kind of beta blockers and will be as good as new.